It’s not often you get to meet your sports heroes, let alone play with them in the biggest game in football.
But in three days, Cameron Brate will do exactly that during Super Bowl LV. It’s a dream come true for the Harvard alumnus, made even more special by the fact that owing to a bit of chance the Tampa Bay Buccaneer will be on his home turf against the Kansas City Chiefs — the first time a team has played on its home field during the big game.
“I always really looked up to Tom and Rob,” said Brate ’14, a tight end for the Bucs who spent four years in the same position for the Crimson. “And I never thought I would have a chance to play with either of them.”
Brate, of course, is referring to Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the former New England Patriots standouts, Super Bowl champions (six for Brady and three for Gronk), and current Bucs teammates. Brady left New England for the Florida franchise as a free agent in 2020, inking a two-year deal worth $50 million. Gronkowski, a tight end known lovingly in New England simply as “Gronk,” came out of retirement to reunite with his former captain soon after.
Already Brate and Brady have developed a successful partnership, connecting for 28 completions during regular and post-season play, including the game-winning touchdown pass during the NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers. And Brate said he’s “learned a lot” from Gronkowski just by seeing his fellow tight end in action up close. “Just being able to watch him, the way he prepares, the way he works, it’s been great,” said Brate.
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Brate admired both men while in College, following the Patriots’ four division, two conference, and one Super Bowl championship during his Harvard time. He replaced the Gronkowski jersey he used to wear with an official shirt signed by the man himself, and he made sure to hang onto the ball Brady threw him for the go-ahead touchdown during the recent NFC championship game. He calls his new teammates “unbelievable players,” who have had a tremendous impact on the team and “the whole culture within our organization.”
In the beginning, Brate said he was a little intimidated. When he got a text from the famous quarterback asking him to get in touch, Brate checked around to make sure it wasn’t a joke. The text was legit, and Brady was all business, telling Brate over FaceTime his goal was to “win the Super Bowl.” A week later, Brate was preparing to play catch with Brady for the first time, and he was nervous. “I was just going to catch passes,” said Brate, “something I’ve done a million times, no one on defense, and I didn’t sleep well the night before.” But Brady’s ability to “put the ball in a good spot” meant the session “went really well,” he recalled.
“It will be pretty cool one day to tell my kids I was able to catch passes from Tom Brady and play alongside Gronk,” said Brate.
One day, they might be saying the same about him.
As a teen in Naperville, Ill., Brate played basketball and baseball, but he was better at football, growing into it, literally. His freshman year in high school he was 5’10” and weighed 140 pounds. By his sophomore year he had gained six inches and was tipping the scales at 200. As he excelled on the field, his coaches encouraged him to think about playing in college and consider the offers he’d received from small Division 1 schools. Then Harvard came calling.
For his parents, both teachers, there was only one option. “I think they would have disowned me if I had the chance to go to Harvard” and went somewhere else, said Brate. “They definitely pushed me in the right direction.” But it only took him one visit to campus to make up his mind. “What really sold me, obviously outside of everything that Harvard can do for you, was just the guys on the football team, just how impressive they were as people. I thought, ‘Wow, if I could end up like these dudes, I wouldn’t be in a bad spot.’”